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Slaves at the service of Western dreams

16/06/2005: Italy

“To make a pair of Timberland shoes that sell in Europe for 150 €, children aged 14 earn 45 cents in the city of Zhongshan. They work 16 hours a day, sleep in the factory, have no holidays or health insurance, risk poisoning and live under the oppression of a proprietor-jailer.” The business in Zhongshan is called Kinmaker Footwear. It has 4,700 employees of whom 80% are women, many aged between 14 and 15 years of age. The products are destined for one client only: Timberland.
The abuses perpetrated against the workers are well documented and faced with such irrefutable proof the multinational has admitted its fault. It did so in a muted fashion, certainly not with the emphasis given last year to the publication of the prize it received as ‘best company of the year for human relations’. The General Director of Timberland’s external relations, Robin Giampa, stated, “We are aware that this factory has had some problems related to workers’ conditions. We are committed to helping the factory’s proprietors to improve these conditions.”

The collected testimonies speak of children between 14 and 16 years of age who start work at 7:30am and finish at 9:00pm, with only two short breaks for lunch and dinner and with extraordinary obligations. During the months in which there are a great number of orders, they start work at 7:00am and continue until 11:00pm. They have a free Sunday every two weeks. The monthly wage is 757 yuan (75 €) from which 44% is deducted for living and housing costs as the majority of the workers are forced to sleep and eat in the factory.
The daily official newspaper, China Daily, summarised the speech given by the President of the Republic and Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Jintao, in welcoming a who’s who of multinational CEOs, government leaders, and innovative business thinkers present in Beijing for the Fortune Global Forum on the 17th May 2005: “You come, you profit, we all prosper.” It seems clear to whom the ‘you’ refers, but it remains more difficult to know which category the President means by the ‘we’.
(source: La RepubblicaEconomia.it, 19/05/2005)

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